The founding of Southern Methodist University in 1911 ranks as one of the most significant events in the history of Dallas, according to a committee of scholars and experts assembled by The Dallas Morning News as part of the celebration of the 125th anniversary of its founding.
The committee's ranking of important historical events, published in a special section of The Dallas Morning News on October 3, 2010., placed the establishment of SMU as the 21st most important occurrence, behind the coming of the railroads and telegraphs in the 1870s but ahead of the formation of The Dallas Cowboys football franchise in the 1960s.
The special section also included an excerpt from an essay about SMU written by Marshall Terry, the E.A. Lilly Professor of English emeritus and a Fellow of the Texas Institute of Letters. The essay, published by The News on May 30, 2010, begins:
From the beginning, Southern Methodist University has been — and, to many, still is — "Dallas' university."
The founding of SMU in 1911 and its beginning of operation in 1915 established an authority in matters philosophical, cultural and civic in the still young city. SMU, by the very nature of a university, with its sine qua non of free inquiry and its devotion to research and new ideas, made the university school more "liberal" than the newspaper that covered it with its rooted conservatism.
Nevertheless, The Dallas Morning News and the business interests it mirrored were highly supportive of the new university, and certainly the backing of The News was vital at the birth of SMU.
When Vanderbilt University severed its connection to the Methodist denomination church, there was steady interest in establishing an institution west of the Mississippi with a theology school for training in which to train ministers.
Wallace Buttrick, executive secretary of the General Education Board of New York, organized by John D. Rockefeller to aid Southern education, said in 1905, "Dallas is the best unrecognized territory in the South. Some day some one will build a university in Dallas, and you Methodists are the ones who should do it."
Strategic land was donated by Dallas families, and $300,000 in cash and pledges came from Dallas residents citizens. The founding president, Robert Stewart Hyer, built a noble building, which was named "Dallas Hall" after the people citizens who funded it.
On Oct. 16, 1912, the day the cornerstone was laid for Dallas Hall, The News proclaimed that it was "the first great step in the actual realization of the plan for the development of a university of the first class in Dallas."